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September 23, 2012
Around this time a year ago, WKU fans were trying to process a 44-16 loss to FCS opponent Indiana State, as the Hilltoppers sunk to a 0-3 record to start the 2011 regular season.
I can remember watching some patrons leave Smith Stadium prematurely that day.
Some were trying to comprehend how WKU's roster, full of potential, could be defeated so thoroughly by an inferior opponent.
Others walked out of the Hilltoppers stadium in practical disbelief, almost humored by the entire experience, as if it were impossible to comprehend what had just transpired on the field of play.
How much can change in a year?
The Hilltoppers are 3-1 in their 2012 out-of-conference schedule, including a 32-31 overtime win over in-state foe Kentucky in Lexington.
How hard is that to process? Almost impossible, for most people.
In fact, WKU has now won 13 straight games against the Vegas spread, dating back to early last season. Their most recent win, a 42-17 stomping of Southern Miss, was a game in which WKU was only favored by 4 points.
For some reason, most just cannot fully accept this team's meteoric progress (yet).
But here's where things can really get crazy.
Admittedly, this is a fairly premature discussion.
It's most likely that WKU will lose at least one or two Sun Belt conference games.
The Toppers have to play Arkansas State, FIU, ULL, and Troy, ALL on the road, not to mention sleeper Louisiana-Monroe at home.
And who knows what key injuries could be lying down the road.
But just for fun...what if--somehow--they run the table?
After all, WKU did finish 7-1 in the Sun Belt last year, and there is no arguing this team is playing better (so far) than last season's squad.
In 2011, Houston started unranked in the pre-season polls, but went on a tear in their first 11 games, breaking into the national Top 25 after a 6-0 start.
Houston defeated UCLA 38-34 in its season opener, before winning ten consecutive games against non-BCS opponents (by mostly large margins-a factor WKU must remember, should they find themselves up big late in some Sun Belt games), raising the program as high as No. 6 overall in the national polls.
The Cougars eventually lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game, which dropped them from No. 6 in the country to No. 17, landing them an invite to the Ticket City Bowl vs. No. 23 Penn State (a matchup the Cougars won, 30-14.)
Now, compare the 2011 Houston team, to the hypothetical 2012 Hilltoppers.
WKU, should they somehow run the table, could boast an 11-1 record (granted, in the Sun Belt vs. Conference USA), with their only loss coming at No. 1 Alabama.
So if WKU rolls through the Sun Belt like Houston did through most of Conference USA, you could make a fair argument that WKU has a better season resume when comparing the two.
Could WKU earn a shot at the BCS title game? No, of course not.
But could their first bowl game in school history somehow be a BCS bowl? Most certainly.
Again, this is all "what ifs". It's not fair to expect WKU to run the table in conference play, especially with how their schedule is set up this season.
8-4, 9-3, or even a 10-2 overall record, is much more likely than 11-1.
And in those scenarios, I have to imagine WKU takes a trip to the New Orleans Bowl, the bowl game usually reserved for the Sun Belt conference champion.
Regardless, it's 1/3 of the way through the regular season now.
And whether you find the Toppers vastly overrated, or underrated...it's fun for both sides to ponder--what if?
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com already has WKU ranked as his No. 17 team in the country in his weekly Top 25.
Teams 12-16 on his list? USC, West Virginia, Ohio State, TCU, and Oklahoma.
If the Toppers keep winning...how much higher can they reach?
What do you think WKU's 2012 season ceiling is? Talk about it in the WKU forums.
Western Kentucky NEWS